When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I think I saw myself in the fashion industry. I was into art, and I was very interested in fashion, but not so much interested in designing. I’d always liked clothes, and I liked to put things together. I'd heard about being a fashion buyer from someone and I thought that seemed like a pretty fancy job. And I think a lot of it had to do with wanting to get out of Mansfield, Ohio, and that seemed like a good ticket.
Well, it was a highly intensive search, where I only applied to one school [laughs]. My dad took me there and we walked around and I said, "Well, I better like the program because I hate the campus," - it's very urban and pretty ugly. But they had a good fashion program, and my dad thought it was important to get experience, so he really liked that it was a co-op program. That was very smart, because in competitive fields, experience is everything. And it was the perfect distance from my home, three hours away, so I couldn't go home and my parents couldn't just stop in. So I didn't really think about it. I just said, “Okay, I'll go there."
How did you choose your major?
I started as a fashion design major, and University of Cincinnati has you jump right in in your foundation year. The co-op program was very much about learning the fashion industry from the bottom up. First you do retail, so you know your customer. Then you do merchandising. Then the actual manufacturing where I was in the factory, working with the designers and seeing how the samples are made. And the last part is designing.
We had to do a fashion show and make all of our own clothes. I did this kind of pop art, Roy Lichtenstein-inspired stuff, which I would never make anything like that ever again. It's like Project Runway. I just don't like to make clothing, and I don't have the skill set to be a seamstress; it’s far too crafty and you can't do it quickly.
Cincinnati was the perfect school for me because it gave me those feet to get out of Ohio. I co-oped every other quarter after my sophomore year, so I was always traveling, always leaving Ohio, always going to the big cities I had wanted to go to. I was in California twice, for a total of a year. There were four of us, and we got on the airplane in Columbus with no place to stay, no apartment, no anything. We just knew we had a job. I worked in Beverly Hills at I. Magnin, a department store right on Wilshire Boulevard, a few blocks away from Rodeo Drive, which was amazingly fun. And all four of us lived in Koreatown with no car in L.A. - we rode the bus which was awful. If any of us had a date, we all got ready and we all went out. I remember, I had a date one night and the other three girls rode in the back of a flatbed truck, just to get out of the neighborhood. I also went to New York City twice. I worked for a lingerie company doing mostly administrative work in the manufacturing part. And then I worked for London Fog for Kids doing actual designing.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
After I graduated, I went to Europe for the summer, which was very fun. I actually worked in London for four weeks just volunteering at this fashion forecasting house.
When I came back, I put together all kinds of resumes and cover letters. I moved to New York without having a job and just slept in my friend Janey's bed. I lined up some interviews, and I got a job with a children's wear company. I loved the people and it was really fun, but I had to make samples and do the patterns and I just said, “No, I can't do this.” So within just a few months I had to look for something else. And that was really hard, when I thought I had landed, but I hadn’t.
I saw this ad for a handbag company, and I just decided to check it out. I've never been interested in accessories, but the woman who interviewed me was fabulous and she dangled the possibility of traveling. The minute I heard that, I said, “Sign me up!” So I took that job which put me into the accessories market.
It was a small, family-owned company; they were Jewish, and they would always call me their “token Shiksa.” And my boss, Sharon, was amazing; she was a real mentor to me, and she let me do just about everything I wanted to. So I just started traveling like a maniac. My first trip to Taiwan, I got on the airplane not really knowing where it was. I was there for a month, and at that time, we didn't have cell phones, so I couldn't even call my parents. It was really strange and weird, but fun.
Because we couldn't Skype then, we would fax all our sketches over, and we would just be typing all these questions back and forth about the designs. And then I would go over there and they'd have a whole room filled with all the samples. They'd make a line, and I'd say tell them to fix this and that, and then they would fix it and bring it back. And that’s how we would put together a line.
When my mentor, Sharon, left, I very quickly got promoted. I was 23 or 24, and I was running this whole department, not knowing what I was doing half the time. I would go to Europe at least twice a year, I'd go to the leather shows and we'd buy all kinds of samples. And we did all kinds of domestic shopping so we could copy this leather, or this hardware, or this silhouette. And then I would go back to Asia to bring samples over. It was just a ton of travel.
I liked it because I was single and it was fun, and that company was doing really well so we stayed at the nicest places. In Hong Kong, we stayed at the Regent, a gorgeous hotel right on the bay. And we could just order whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. It was great.
I was at that company for maybe four or five years. Then I went to Liz Claiborne and worked there. I felt like I needed to work for a bigger corporation, and they were a big player at that point. But it was just disastrous. There were layers upon layers of management, and you would have to ask this person who would have a meeting with this person who would have another meeting, blah, blah, blah. It was also a game of who could stay the latest. Like, I've been here since 8:30am and I have my work done, but other people wouldn’t stroll in until 10:00 and then stay until 9:00 or 9:30 at night; I hate that game. But it was a learning experience.
So I left there and went to another small handbag place and actually worked with my mentor, Sharon, again. It was another family-owned company, and I worked with some really amazing people that I am still in touch with. I had gotten to a point where I wasn't designing anymore; I was merchandising, so I had designers working for me and I would help choose things from what they were doing. I was still doing a lot of travel, but that got to be crazy because at that point I had my daughters, Devon and Shelby.
We were living outside of the city, and I was commuting three or four days a week. My husband, Joe, was also trying to work on his career. One of the kids would get sick and he would be in Connecticut and I would be in the city and the kid would be in Westchester, and it was crazy. When my husband got a job offer, we decided to move to Minnesota. I remember when I told my boss, that was the beginning of the Internet, so there was some talk of me working remotely. But I just needed to wind things down. And then shortly after we moved to Minnesota, I got pregnant with my youngest daughter, C.J.
So that started the next chapter of being a mom and volunteering. I was making new friends and figuring out what preschools and kindergartens and grade schools they should go to. And then I got super involved volunteering with all of those things. I started with playground volunteer coordinator, stuff like that, and then I ended up running the biggest fundraiser that our community has, a three-day event with 700 volunteers. It really allowed me to be at home and still be busy. And the people that I worked with on those things are still my best friends.
After that, I worked on a political campaign. That was kind of on my bucket list, and I liked the candidate and it was close to my house. I just called the campaign manager and sent him my resume; I told him, “I'll volunteer for you, and then if you are happy with what I’m doing I want you to hire me.” So that's what they ended up doing. I was the assistant to the political director, so I was managing their volunteer database and planning events. And at the end I was actually planning the travel schedule for the Senator. I liked it, but it was definitely not for somebody with three kids. You can’t even have a dog, because the hours are crazy. That whole period of my life was a lot of cheese platters and nametags. I'm glad I did it, but I’d never do it again.
Next, I worked for the College of Visual Arts. I came on as a part-time admin; it was being run by this very eccentric president, and I quickly became her assistant. They had a community education program, so I helped put that together and then ran that. I loved being in a creative environment again with fine arts and sculpture. And I thought, “Oh my god, how are you going to make a living?” But you have to hand it to the 18, 19-year old kids who know that's what they want to do. But I jumped ship from that job because it wasn't being run ethically, and I wasn't happy about that, and it did close within a year after I left.
It feels like every time that I think, “Oh, what should I do next?” it kind of just emerges and plops in my lap. Like, I worked on a capital campaign where somebody asked me if I could help out with it, and then it turned into a two year thing.
I hadn’t ever gone back to fashion because it's Minnesota, and the only thing going on here is Target, unless I wanted to start my own business. And I didn't want to do that crazy travel again. But a few years ago, I started this hockey clothing company called Bee Fearless with my friend. We just decided that there was really nothing out there, and we both had daughters that played hockey at that time. So we decided to give it a go and we designed some hockey spirit wear.
About two years into it, my friend’s job changed so she stepped out of the company at that time. I remember thinking that maybe I should just forget it. But I had worked so much already and I loved that it was my own thing and I didn’t have to ask anybody their opinion about it. There's really nothing else in my life where I've had the experience of figuring this kind of stuff out; it challenges me.
I've also been working at Stitch Fix for almost a year now. I just saw something about it and I didn't even tell my family; I just went downtown and interviewed for it. I started out just doing women's and now I do men’s and plus and luxe. I like it because I can get up and do it with my dog. And should we be able to spend more time at our house in Florida, I can still do it there. And it circles me back to my fashion roots which feels good too.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
My parents always told me, you can be anything you want to be, and I kind of had the idea of the fashion thing, but I wish I had been pushed to explore a few other areas too. Like, I really like to write, and I think that there are some other things I could have looked at.
My big advice is to just remember who you are and who you want to be. If you're in a situation or a job or whatever, and it's just not who you are or who you are aspiring to be, then cut the ties. That works for me even today; if there are certain situations or friendships that just don’t feel right, I let them go. The other thing I would say is from the book The Four Agreements, and one of them is, “Do your best every day.” And your best every day might not be the same every day. Those are the two things I think are important right now.